The well-dressed lady turned the fur collar over in her hands and fixed me with a withering stare. ‘Is this real fur?’ I was helping out in my friend’s clothes shop, a fashionable haunt in a chichi area of south-west London. ‘Yes,’ I said, bracing myself. She stroked the luxuriant fur, then asked, ‘What is it?’
‘Fox?’ I said, making the answer a question, as you do when you are expecting protest.
‘Where did the fox come from?’
This was too much. I hadn’t the foggiest. So I fixed her with a meaningful gaze and said: ‘Northcote Road. It was going through the bins.’
She didn’t laugh. Was she going to rant at me about animal rights? No, she just nodded, and slapped the collar down on the counter to pay.
Listen to Camilla Swift and PETA's Kirsty Henderson debating 'ethical fur' on the Spectator podcast:
After that I began to notice that many of my metropolitan friends are suddenly, un-ashamedly sporting fur. From rabbit-trimmed gilets to the ubiquitous fashion staple of the winter season for two years running now, those ladies’ bobble hats with the little fox-fur pompom on top.
It was only a few years ago, it seems, that I hid my mother’s old furs in my spare-room closet and didn’t dare bring them out for fear of a Swampy type assailing me in the street. ‘You should give them a decent burial,’ one particularly hand-wringing vegan told me as she looked in my closet disgustedly one day.
I only once plucked up the courage to wear my mother’s glorious old fox-fur coat, bought in the 1970s from Canadian Furs. During a bitterly cold winter, I donned it on New Year’s Eve to go to the local Chinese takeaway. I figured the Chinese were unlikely to complain. On another occasion, I took my grandmother’s mink to Val d’Isère. I think I got away with it, although British tourists gave me filthy looks. By and large, however, the coats have lain dormant in garment bags and might as well be six feet under.
So why the change of heart? I think it’s because we’ve imagined for ourselves a whole range of ethical excuses. When the Duchess of Cambridge wore an alpaca hat to church at Sandringham earlier this month, it was all just dandy — for verily it was taken from alpacas who died from natural causes in the depths of Peru and fashioned under the Fairtrade label by local artisans.
Yeah, sure. That happens. Often enough to make large quantities of hats. And lots of us will be going into the depths of Peru regularly to check it out.
Another good excuse we now use is that the fur we buy is all right because the rest of the carcass was used. A friend bought a reindeer skin recently for home decorating purposes and the woman in the shop was very keen to make it clear that the poor blighters were killed for meat, not just for fur. By that token we should be allowed to hunt anything so long as we eat it. We just have to find a good recipe for fox.
For what it’s worth (and bracing myself for the inevitable onslaught from the RSPCA, Rod Liddle and Liz Jones), the way I look at it is this: if it’s a predator, I’ll wear it. So broadly speaking, I’m happy to wear the fox-fur bobble hats and anything using mink, arguably the most vicious and unpleasant of all the furries.
I would never, ever wear rabbit. Sorry, I just could not countenance it, no matter how hypocritical you think this makes me. I had a house rabbit called BB. Rabbits are pets. Ditto pony skin. I won’t wear anything I can ride or stroke. End of.
But here’s the thing. I would like the fox and mink killed in the wild. I don’t like the idea of farming things in cramped conditions for their skins.
In the old days, one fancied that the romantic-sounding Canadian Furs was an enterprise in which wild animals were culled skilfully in their snowy natural habitat by handsome men in lumber jackets. Nowadays, one suspects something intensively hideous in China.
Once, we all gave practical reasons for wearing the furs we had in the back of our closets. It was my great aunt Joan’s. It’s vintage. I may as well use it, it’s dead now. Today, in the post-truth, ethically self-conscious era, we all make ridiculous arguments for why fur is eco-friendly, sustainable, humane…
If it was hunted by us all individually, on the weekend, it would be. But the liberal elite won’t let us hunt our own fox-fur hats in the woods closest to where we live. They prefer it produced out of sight in the Far East, then packaged as ‘ethically sourced’.
So the next time you put your bobble hat on, ladies, ask yourself this question: would I have been prepared to shoot that pompom? If the answer is no, maybe you should give it a decent burial.